The IAB’s new viewability standard: blink and you miss it
On average, the human blink lasts for around 400 milliseconds. So when the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) set out its new viewability standard last week, suggesting that 50 per cent of pixels in a display advertising banner must be visible for a minimum of one second to qualify as an impression, I was left feeling unenthused. In reality, the standard was little more than a rubber-stamp being pressed on to an already widely accepted industry standard, and that in itself does little to tackle the root problem.
The viewability debate has been a hot topic for the ad industry for many years now, but despite widespread concern, there’s yet to be any real improvement at the inventory level. The IAB may be able to strong-arm the industry into full scale adoption of the guidelines, but there’s still no way of policing it and even if the standard is met, it says nothing about the usefulness of that elusive second. In fact, nearly 50 per cent of digital display ads are viewed for less than one second and thousands of impressions go entirely unseen each year, and all because advertisers do not have enough insight into where their digital ads end up.
One of the issues feeding poor viewability is bot traffic (internet programmes talking to each other). According to the IAB, at least a third of display impressions are now served to non-human traffic, meaning that digital advertising budgets are being spent on botnets that masquerade as real page views. To make matters worse, bots are clever and they’re spectacularly good at evading capture, so the problem will only get worse if advertisers don’t begin addressing the problem.
If the issue of botnets wasn’t troubling enough, many ad impressions are being funnelled into illegal or inappropriate websites, such as peer-to-peer file sharing platforms, or malware and illegal phishing sites. In the UK online advertising market alone, 7.78 billion display advertising impressions are served alongside brand-damaging content each year.
Advertisers who purchase digital ads through automated buying cycles are benefitting from the potential to access broader audiences at a lower price point, however, without insight into where their content is seen they’ll continue to fumble around in the dark. In order to protect brand reputation and ensure that advertising spend is as fruitful as possible, advertisers need to take proactive ownership of where and for how long their ad impressions are displayed. After all, the IAB can’t and won’t protect advertisers from exploitation by those out to profiteer from a fraudulent advertising economy.
Andrew Goode is COO of Project Sunblock which specialises in helping advertisers to protect their brands online and providing real-time analytics on viewability.